The baptism of Rus was an epoch-making event for the ancient Russian people and the state of Kievan Rus from the point of view of both statehood, mentality, and spirituality. Therefore, it is no coincidence that Viktor Vasnetsov repeatedly drew the same story of the Baptism of Rus. Until now, this plot has reached the picture, which is now exhibited in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
The same story is repeated on the fresco of the Cathedral of Vladimir in Kiev, in which the artist participated in paintings along with such well-known artists as MV Nesterov, PA Svedomsky, VA Kotarbinsky. VM Vasnetsov repeated the same story on a sketch of a fresco for the Church of the Holy Trinity in the Serbian village of Gorni Adrovac. On the site of this temple the brave volunteer of the Serbian-Turkish war died, the retired colonel of the Russian army NN Raevsky – the grandson of that same General Rayevsky – the hero of Borodino.
In the basis of both paintings and
frescoes, VM Vasnetsov put a well-known legend, recorded by Nestor the chronicler in The Tale of Bygone Years, about how the Kiev prince Vladimir Svyatoslavovich baptized Kievites in the waters of the Dnieper.
In the composition center of the picture – the prince himself, nicknamed among the people Vladimir the Baptist. The prince, clothed in bright, festive clothes, stands with his hands to the sky. His whole appearance speaks of the determination of his decision to adopt in his state a new faith and to convert all his people into it.
It is known that initially Vladimir was baptized himself, having received the baptism of the name of Basil. Then he baptized 12 of his sons. Then he christened the Kiev nobility. And then the simple people baptized. It is this moment that is captured in the picture of VM Vasnetsov.
The prince stands surrounded by a higher and simple clergy, a choir of singers, mostly in white robes. Next, in the guard of honor, there is also the squad of the prince. People who are baptized are naked and immersed in the unseen waters of the Dnieper. Representatives of different generations are distinguished among them: old people, young people, and children. They take turns to approach the old priest who performs the sacrament of baptism.
The whole background of the picture is strewn with people who stand on the Kiev hills and also take part in the ritual. Above all, the artist depicted the inhabitants of the sky in a bright cloud, from which the powerful rays of God’s blessing and grace diverge.